1:17 PM

Hora’ Police

The Police Headquarters Friday assured immediate disciplinary action against some personnel of the Siyambalanduwa Police Station with regard to their alleged failure to act against five persons from Galamuna area who were caught with some invaluable ancient artefacts in August, with the Policemen themselves pocketing the same items.

ASP Neil Hettiarachchi, of the Crime Division told The Nation, that though there had been department lapses when it came to Police functions, they were not trying to hide anything or whitewash any wrongdoers.

Several accusations were made against the Siyambalanduwa Police in connection with the finding of a small box full of jewellery believed to have belonged to Queen Sugala of the Polonnaruwa period, while the four persons were clearing a sugar cane cultivation of weeds and the subsequent recovery of these items by the area Police without either producing the youth or the jewellery in court.

Responding to further charges that the investigations conducted by Police Headquarters into the incident were also covered up, ASP Hettiarachchi said, instructions had been given to Moneragala Division, SSP G.D.A.K. Senaratne, who is legally responsible in carring out an investigation, to see whether these Police personnel have acted dishonourably in handling the case and whether there have been any department lapses. They will also send a report to the SSP Moneragala mentioning the necessary actions that should be taken against the Policemen involved.

However, contradicting the Crime Division ASP’s statement, SSP Senaratne, sounded highly agitated, when asked about the case. “Why are you asking me? There is a Police Spokesman. Go and ask him or the people at the Crime Division who had given several statements to the papers. There are some officers in the Police who like to see their names in the paper, but I have no such interest,” SSP Senaratne said.Commenting further he insisted, “This is not relevant to me, so don’t ask me. The Crime Division should make suggestions about what disciplinary action should be taken, as they handled the inquiry and they should give instructions to the Siyambalanduwa Police.”

H.M. Kusumawathie who initially brought the case to light and levelled charges against the Police said that four youth, amongst whom was her son, had gone to a sugar cane cultivation at Helamulla area in Galamuna, Siyambalanduva to uproot weeds on August 13 as manual labourers. Ajith (15) one of the five workers had unearthed a small box when he was digging weeds with a mammoty. They had found in the box nine precious stones along with seven rings and a pendant in which the picture of a lady was carved.

The five had distributed the valuables among themselves amicably. Suranga (21), son of Kusumawathie, had received three gems, two rings and the box they were found in. Dinesh Saliya (14), who was given a gem and a ring, had sold his gem believed to be worth more than Rs. 1 million for just Rs. 200,000 to a famous gem merchant at Kahawatte, Ratnapura through a neighbour. On the way back home, Dinesh had described the story to a relative in the area and this relative of Dinesh in turn had tipped off the Siyambalanduva Police about the find, citing the names of Suranga and Janaka (22).

According to Kusumawathie, when the Police visited their houses on August 30, Suranga had not been there as he had gone for an interview to join the Civil Defence Force. Unable to find the duo and not getting any information from other villagers the cops had gone back empty handed that day. A team of Police personnel with eight homeguards including IP Indunil of Helamulla Police Post, SI Sarathchandra, of the Intelligence Unit of Siyambalanduva Police have allegedly revisited the suspects’ residences the following day on 10 motorcycles. The cops had allegedly grilled Suranga for more than one and half hours and threatened to kill him if he failed to hand over the valuables to them, according to Kusumawathie. When she inquired why they questioned her son for so long, the cops had said that it was none of her business and they just collected some information as Suranga was to join the homeguards.

Complainant Kusumawathie said that Suranga had handed over all the valuables he had hidden in his aunt’s house to the cops, not knowing they were priceless antiques. IP Indunil had allegedly told Suranga that he would teach him a good lesson if he breathed even a word of it to anybody. Similarly, the Police had recovered the rest of the valuable stones and the jewellery and also collected Rs. 150,000 and the ring from Dinesh’s possession at gun point. Janaka had run away from the village when the Police arrived, but his share too had been seized by the Police.

She said, the four youth were summoned to the Police Station to record statements on September 4 and they were released after seven hours. None of the statements had been read out to the suspects by the Police and they had simply made them sign what was given to them. They had been ordered not to go out of their houses by the Police, Kusumawathie added.

Irked by the injustice meted out to them, Kusumawathie had then written a letter to the President on September 8, informing him of what happened to them, as these youth could not go out to even earn something because of the Police directive. Then she had informed OIC, IP Chaminda Rohana of the Police Unit set up at the Archaeological Department to tackle theft and destruction of artefacts

Only after OIC Chaminda and a Police team returned to Colombo after recording statements from relevant persons at Galamuna, under the instruction of SSP Amarasinghe, Director Crimes Division on September 14, that IP Indunil and SI Sarathchandra, had hastened to arrest the suspects the following day in connection with keeping artefacts.

About five days after their arrest, four persons, including Ajith’s father, were produced before the Moneragala Magistrate on September 16.

Kusumawathie criticised the arbitrary actions of the Police and said that innocent village youth were sent to remand prison, while the cops who took the artifacts and kept them illegally were free. She said Janaka had allegedly handed over his share to the Police through a Minister, soon after the incident and had pleaded guilty to the charges against him. The Moneragala Magistrate Court released him on Rs.50,000 bail on November 5. Suranga had surrendered to court through a lawyer on October 31. When the case was taken up in court on November 7, all five suspects were further remanded till November 14 and the applications submitted seeking bail for two of the suspects, who are students aged 14 and 15, were rejected by the court.

She sighed: “We are poor villagers who cannot even afford to live, how can we afford to proceed with legal action. My innocent child is in remand with the other four. All the family members, including me, cannot go out to earn something as we are running here and there to obtain their release and to visit them. I was utterly discouraged by what Moneragala SSP Senaratne said when I was summoned on October 18. He said the Police have power to do whatever they wish and asked whether we can go against Police authority.

Meanwhile, The Nation learns that one of the homeguards, Amila serving under IP Indunil, who had allegedly been given a ring, collected from the suspects, had committed suicide. It is speculated that he took his life fearing that he would have to face consequences if he was exposed.

1:16 PM

Army Commander’s term heading for extension

All indications are Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka will be given a further extension of one year on reaching the age of 58 in December, in order to complete the job of bringing the LTTE to its knees, militarily.

Sources said that with the Army performing well on all fronts, there was no necessity to even consider changing its Commander, especially with the incumbent being held in high esteem by his fighting men.

This week saw some key positions in the Army changing hands. Master General Ordinance, Maj. Gen. Asoka Thoradeniya was moved to Army Headquarters with his retirement due on December 8. Eastern Commander Maj. Gen. Dhammika Liyanage succeeded as Master General Ordinance. Maj. Gen. Srinath Rajapaksa, the Commander of 51 Division assumed duties as Commander East. Commander of 21 Division Brig. Priyantha Jayasundera took over the command of 51 Division. Second in Command of 57 Division Brig. Senaka Wickramaratne assumed command of 21 Division. Col. Aruna Wanniarachchi who headed the 52-2 Brigade rose as Deputy Commander of 57 Division. These changes were effected by Military Secretary Maj. Gen. Deepal Alwis.

Army Headquarters Sources said soon 33 Colonels will be elevated to the rank of Brigadier. In addition, the Army Commander has ordered raising the cadre of generals in the force by four.

At least five senior major generals are scheduled to retire next year on reaching the age of 55, unless they are given extensions by the President.

1:15 PM

Opposition gears for Budget fight

Opposition moves are underway to defeat the government’s Budget for 2009, although the government currently possesses a clear majority to have it passed with relative ease.

Against overwhelming numerical odds, the main opposition United National Party (UNP) vowed to defeat the 2009 Budget, claiming it had a moral obligation to do so on the grounds that the proposals are not pro-people.

Speaking to The Nation, UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said despite the current numbers in Parliament which give the government a very clear majority with 117 MPs, with the combined opposition comprising only 107, the UNP considers it a number one priority to defeat the Budget.

However, the opposition has a tough fight on its hands, with the Wimal Weerawansa led National Freedom Front (NFF) likely to swing the government’s way during the Budget vote, bolstering the UPFA’s numbers to 128.

Meanwhile, speculation is rife that the main opposition and the SLFP Mahajana Wing led by Mangala Samaraweera are trying to win back a few UNP dissidents between now and the third reading of the Budget, but given the numerical odds, the opposition would require at least 20 additional MPs to stand a chance.

Asked how the UNP would garner the requisite numbers to pull off a Budget defeat, Attanayake responded that it would be done, although the details of the manoeuvres could not be revealed ahead of time. He said the TNA and the JVP had been very clear about voting against the Budget.

JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe confirmed that his party has decided it will vote against the Budget. “We will support the vote for the Defence Ministry, but other than that this Budget offers no respite whatsoever for the people,” he said.

However, he admitted that the government had the necessary majority to get the Budget passed.
The government, meanwhile, expressed confidence that the Budget will pass with ease. “We do not have any doubts about the Budget being passed and we are absolutely sure there will be no difficulty in doing so,” said Leader of the House and Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva.